Officer Dennis Turner from the Orlando Police Department in Florida was charged with aggravated child abuse in 1998—but assigned to a program working with school children.
A police officer in Orlando, Florida has been arrested after he handcuffed and arrested two children, aged six and eight, in two separate incidents while they were at school on Thursday, September 19, The New York Times reports. The officer, Dennis Turner, was temporarily suspended until the investigation was concluded, Police Chief Orlando Rolón initially confirmed in a statement. Turner is a retired officer and was assigned to a special program developed for those who have retired from the Orlando Police Department called the Reserve Officer Program. The policeman was working as a school resource officer when the two episodes took place. Now, Turner faces immense criticism as well as legal consequences.
Details of the Reserve Officer Program were not available upon investigation. However, the police department, regardless of assignment, requires any police officer to obtain prior approval from a supervisor before arresting anyone under the age of 12. For both instances, officer Turner had not obtained permission to arrest the school children. During the arrest of the eight-year-old, the transporting officer was not made aware that Turner did not have approval. The child was processed through the Juvenile Assessment Center before being released a short while after, Chief Rolón explained. The child's identity, including their name and gender, has not been made public.
On the other hand, when Turner arrested the six-year-old, the transporting officer immediately halted the process once he discovered that the necessary approval had not been obtained. She was allowed to return to school before being processed. Chief Rolon asserted regarding the incidents, "As a grandparent of three children less than 11 years old, this is very concerning to me." Meanwhile, the six-year-old has been identified. Her name was revealed when her grandmother Meralyn Kirkland came forward to tell her story. She explained that her granddaughter Kaia was handcuffed and arrested after having a tantrum at Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy, a charter school.
Once the incident took place, Meralyn received a call from the school informing her that Kaia had kicked a faculty member and was therefore charged with battery and was being transported to the Juvenile Assessment Center. Though the concerned grandmother tried to explain to officer Turner that Kaia had a sleeping disorder known as sleep apnea, which affected her behavior (a condition that the family was working on resolving), he refused to listen and retorted, "Well, I have sleep apnea, and I don’t behave like that." Meralyn stated in response, "No six-year-old child should be able to tell somebody that they had handcuffs on them and they were riding in the back of a police car."
Thus, Turner was placed under investigation for his unwarranted actions. The case is especially problematic as the officer was charged with aggravated child abuse in 1998 in connection with his seven-year-old son. Though he was initially suspended pending an outcome of the investigation, the disposition of the case was unclear when recently researched. Furthermore, he was reprimanded in 2016 for using excessive force after stunning a man five times with a Taser during an arrest. Given his history, it is evident that Turner should not have been assigned to the Reserve Officer Program or the school resource position. According to Dr. Victor M. Fornari, the vice chairman for child and adolescent psychiatry at Northwell Health’s Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, there is little to warrant the arrests of a six and eight-year-old. He stated, "Arresting them and putting them under handcuffs is traumatizing. There’s no clinical benefit to the child or society." He suggests relying on the mental health care system—not the criminal justice system—in order to tackle scenarios involving children. Thankfully, officer Turner was swiftly brought to justice.